Surf Club History
Our history begins with a period known as the boarding house era of the Hamptons. Until the late 1800s people had no notion of a bathing beach as such. Then, with the establishment of railroad service to the South Fork in 1870, summer borders began to arrive, attracted by advertisements of sailing, fishing, bathing and access to the ocean. In the 1880’s John Wendell became interested in the growing popularity of Quogue, and bought the Quogue House, located on the southeast corner of Beach Lane and Quogue Street opposite the Presbyterian Chapel. Beach Lane was so named because it was the only road leading to the beach. People staying at the Quogue House were transported to the bathing station, now the Surf Club, by a large Fifth Avenue coach drawn by three magnificent horses brought to Quogue by John Wendell expressly for that purpose. At that time and into the 1900’s Seldon Hallock managed the Quogue House and owned the bathing station which then bore his name (Hallock’s Beach). Anna Stevens managed Hallock’s Beach summoning the help with a bell that rang once for a lifeguard, twice for an alley boy and three times for the road boy. A constant ringing signaled an emergency. The road boy collected 25 cents for parking cars.
A long tradition of life guarding began in Quogue with the establishment of the lifesaving station in the 1850’s. The original station still stands and is now a private residence near the Surf Club. The brave surf men were responsible for patrolling the beach year-round and rescuing sailors from sailing ships wrecked along the shore. The four masted schooner, Augustus Hunt, came ashore January 22, 1904 in a ferocious storm. Two Quogue surf men, Frank Warner and Bill Halsey were later awarded Gold medals for their bravery during this rescue. Bill Halsey was also a life guard and long time member of the Surf Club. Another ship, an unnamed salt ship, foundered January 21, 1897 and today remains buried under the sand in front of the Surf Club. Her ribs emerge periodically after particularly severe winter storms. The storms also uncover machinery abandoned by Thomas Edison after his ill-fated venture to extract iron from beach sand.
The hurricane of 1938 devastated Quogue and Westhampton washing houses off the barrier beach and flooding both communities up to their Main Streets. The Club survived but the bathhouses were washed away. The Beach Lane bridge was completely destroyed isolating the barrier beach until the current Quogue bridge was completed a couple of years later.
Helen and Harvey Cooley arrived in Quogue from Greenport – Helen didn’t like the smell of fish in that village – when Harvey accepted a job as principal of the Quogue School. By 1941 they were also managing the Hallock House and in 1942 they began a 25-year run managing the current Surf Club with Helen in charge of the business end and the cafeteria and Harvey in charge of the buildings and grounds and the beach. As an aside, Helen’s clam chowder was legendary to the point where best selling author John O’Hara would walk 2 miles each day from his oceanfront home to enjoy the hearty fare.
July 3, 1957 brought disaster to the Club in the form of a major fire which completely leveled the facility with the exception of the laundry room, now the Manager’s cottage, which was used as a common locker for the remainder of the season. By 1958 the new Club was completed and with a few changes remains the same today.
In 1966, the Cooleys decided to sell the Club, offering it first to the membership. Surprisingly it took two summers to raise funds for the purchase totaling a less than princely sum of $125,000 put up by 25 families. Thus began the modern era of the Club.
At first, the transition from a family owned facility to a not-for-profit corporation was difficult and by 1971 membership had fallen to a mere 97 families in spite of the addition of a 25-meter pool in 1969. As a result a membership drive was begun in 1971 under the direction of Dr. Richard G. McChesney and George M. Motz which led to a doubling of membership by 1975 at which time the Board of Directors had the wisdom to hire Terry and Robbie Young, long-time friends of the Cooley family, to manage the Club. The rest, as they say, is history. Attaining membership in the Club can now take several years, and why not? As everyone in the award winning documentary film “Benches’ says, it is truly a terrific family club with multigenerational ties.